We’ve got a bad case of the end-of-break blues around my house. When I woke Quinn and Claire at 6:30– then 6:35, 6:40, and finally 6:45 this morning– they weren’t exactly leaping out of bed to get back to school and friends. Chloe was out the door at 6am for crew practice (never an easy start to the week!), and her friend, Connor, is headed back to Marblehead this afternoon. I guess I’d call that a tough Monday coming off of break for her.
As for me? An old, familiar ache hit my stomach yesterday– the kind I used to get at the end of a break when I’d been home from school, or at the end of the weekend when I worked in one of my more demanding jobs (yes, I did work in some demanding jobs outside the house– you just have to have known me for more than 10 years to know that!). My blues and accompanying stomachache were set off, I think, by catching up on e-mail. In particular, the e-mail about an upcoming planning meeting for a group of Senior parents (that’s parents of Seniors, not Senior Citizens) organizing an end-of-year celebration triggered anxiety and dread. I had signed up to help, but I only became aware at the last general coffee that this group might be more cliquish than the parents of younger kids I’m around so much more. I won’t go into specifics, but it’s no fun for a new face when people are not receptive to conversation attempts– and it’s even less fun when they are actually rudely exclusive. I can survive it; I’m a big girl. I just don’t feel like dealing with it.
The truth is, I’m weary of extending myself all the time. That’s part of the deal, though, when you make a move to a new culture (even if it’s just urban to rural in the U.S., or region to region!) Everything requires thought. Every time I leave the house, I’m working to be sure I get to where I’m supposed to be on time. I’m trying to be conscious of my environment and follow the norms of this society I am in (Do I walk down the tube stairs on the left or on the right?? etc.). Even when I reach my destination, it takes an effort to engage with people– even when I really like them (as I do most of the parents and nannies I talk to on the school playground). There’s never a familiar sense of ease that knowing someone a long time brings– though I am finally getting to the point with several friends where I at least remember sibling and spouse names, where the U.S. home base is, and how long they’ve been in London. Those are the essential talking points for newish expats. But I digress. What I’m trying to say is that though I think I appear calm and in control most of the time, I always feel like I am just one wrong turn from everything falling apart. That’s an exhausting way to live.
Clay and I talked about another aspect of that this weekend. Last week I received a utility bill that was an order of magnitude higher than expected. My first reaction was sheer panic… not because we couldn’t pay it, but because I immediately assumed I had made some terrible mistake that caused the bill to be so high. My mind raced, along with my pulse, “those little ‘off’ buttons on the outlets! Was I supposed to turn them all off whenever we’re not using the outlets?” or “I haven’t been shutting down the computer at night!” Or did I have the heat set wrong? Or was the meter broken and I would have to hurry up and figure out how to fix the situation before the bill was due (a daunting process, given that our power company’s call center is in Scotland and I can’t understand a word they say on the phone! Them: “right. so that’s haych-eh-es-kay-eh-t?” me: “yes, H-e… no, eee…” and that’s just getting the name spelled out!) Anyway, Clay pointed out that my reaction was probably based in the fact that, for both of us, making mistakes is a regular part of life here– taking the wrong train, or failing to secure a reservation, or going out the “in” door. So you come to expect that if something’s gone wrong, it’s probably because you did something wrong.
Last week was my time to hole up with the family and feel comfortable. It took very little persuasion on their part to get me to stay home the entire day Wednesday! Now it’s back to extending myself– socially, practically, and in every way. I have to put myself out there again– where I will probably make mistakes, I might be socially rejected, and I will certainly have to exert myself mentally and physically to accomplish our daily activities. Already today I feel better about it than I did last night. My reservoir is deep enough to get me through another couple months until the next break. And somewhere along the line, maybe this expat life will stop being so hard.
Love and espresso to my friends and family Stateside!
Postscript the next morning…
Sorry for the downer posts, friends. I have to say that is part of why I haven’t been blogging the last few months. But I have something to add to this now…
I joined a Bible study group looking at the book of James recently. It hit me that I should be very grateful for the (admittedly minor) trials I’m having. My life holds no real hardships; and we are, in the context of the world’s people, very rich. My trials are really petty in comparison to the struggles so many people endure– I know that, and I am embarrassed that I can still find something to complain about amidst the overwhelming ease and abundance in my life. I should be thanking God for that abundance, yes. But I also thank Him that there are some obstacles in my path– something over which I have to persevere and through which I can grow in faith, understanding, empathy, maturity.
I fear this might not make sense– in one little paragraph– of the things I’m trying to understand myself. But I just wanted to add that there’s more going on here than a bunch of whining! Maybe it will be a topic later… or maybe we will just lighten up and have fun again. Love to all… on my third coffee this morning!